“The White House has begun its search for the next stewards of HealthCare.gov.
A contract solicitation posted online Wednesday enumerates the qualifications and requirements of the next Obamacare website contractor, charged with keeping the online federal health insurance exchange portal up and running.
The 60-page job posting says the next caretaker of the Obamacare site will need to be able to work “under aggressive time constraints” to work with the Federally Facilitated Marketplace in testing and upgrading a variety of hardware, software, and security features. It also states that the contractor will need to be able to perform tests that can demonstrate that the site can function when a large number of users are online.
Accenture currently holds a one-year contract to run HealthCare.gov, which was awarded after a no-bid process back in January. That came after the White House chose to terminate CGI Federal’s contract following HealthCare.gov’s failed launch in October of last year. The website’s rollout was so plagued with problems that for a time it appeared the technical difficulties could severely undermine the implementation of President Obama’s signature legislative achievement.”
“Nine months after Americans began signing up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, a challenging new phase is emerging as confused enrollees clamor for help in understanding their coverage.
Nonprofit organizations across the country are being swamped by consumers with questions. Many are low-income, have never had insurance and have little knowledge of the health-care system. The rampant confusion poses a potential hurdle for the success of the health law: If many Americans don’t understand how health insurance works, that could hurt their ability to use their benefits — or to keep their coverage altogether.
Community organizations are scrambling to keep up with the larger-than-anticipated demand, but they are stretched thin. A federal program to help consumers has also run out of money.
“We are hearing this in probably every state that we work in,” said Christine Barber, a senior policy analyst with Community Catalyst, a Boston-based advocacy organization that works with community groups in more than 40 states. “ ‘Okay, I have my card. What do I do now?’ ””
“Primary care doctors have reported problems making referrals for patients who have purchased some of the cheaper plans from the federal insurance marketplace. Complaints about narrow networks with too few doctors have attracted the attention of federal regulators and have even prompted lawsuits.
But they’re also causing headaches in the day-to-day work of doctors and clinics. “The biggest problem we’ve run into is figuring out what specialists take a lot of these plans,” said Dr. Charu Sawhney of Houston.
Sawhney is an internist at the Hope Clinic, a federally qualified health center in southwest Houston, in the bustling heart of the Asian immigrant community. Her patients speak 14 different languages, and many of them are immigrants or refugees from places as far flung as Burma and Bhutan. Most of her patients are uninsured, which means she is familiar with problems of access.
But the limited options of some of the HMOs sold on the marketplace surprised even her.
“I was so consumed with just getting people to sign up,” she said, “I didn’t take the next step to say ‘Oh by the way, when you sign up, make sure you sign up for the right plan.’”
Understandably, a lot of Sawhney’s patients picked lower-cost plans, “and we’re running into problems with coverage in the same way we were when they were uninsured.””
“Looking for a place where Obamacare doesn’t exist? Try moving to the U.S. Territories, where the Obama administration just provided a pretty big waiver from the law’s major coverage provisions.
The Affordable Care Act’s design dealt a pretty big problem to the territories. It required insurers there to comply with the law’s major market reforms — guaranteed coverage, mandated benefits, limits on profits, etc. — without requiring residents to get coverage or providing subsidies to help them afford coverage. The territories — Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — have been warning for years that would destroy their insurance markets. The individual mandate and the subsidies are the major ways the ACA tries to bring healthy people into the individual insurance market to balance out sick patients who can no longer be denied coverage.
That was until Wednesday, when the Obama administration told the territories that the coverage requirements actually don’t apply to them. The exemption was posted on a Health and Human Services Web site on Thursday.
It’s an apparent reversal from last July, when a HHS official told the territories there was nothing HHS could do to help them out.”
“During the open enrollment period for the state and federal health care exchanges, each staff member and volunteer worked with an average of 1.8 people per day, according to a survey of assister programs released by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser calculated the number of people receiving aid between October 1, 2013 and the end of April, 2014:
More than 4,400 Assister Programs, employing more than 28,000 full-time-equivalent staff and volunteers, helped an estimated 10.6 million people during the first Open Enrollment period.
If you do the math, 28,000 individuals assisting 10.6 million people over 210 days breaks down to 1.8 people per day per service representative. While the individualized guidance was time consuming, the study revealed that the assister programs should have been able to help more people in the span of a full workday. The questionnaire answers indicated that 64 percent of the programs spent an average of 1-2 hours with each person, 18 percent took 2-3 hours, and just five percent exceeded three hours.
The assister programs faced a myriad of other issues too. From the New York Times (buried deep in the second to last paragraph):
About four in 10 of the programs could not help everyone who approached them, the survey found, and 12 percent said the demand for help far exceeded their capacity to provide it. Nine of 10 programs said clients had already returned to them with post-enrollment problems.”
“”Responding to inquiries from federal officials, the California health department has released a plan it says will dramatically slash its backlog of Medi-Cal applications within six weeks.
For months, the state has labored under the largest such pile-up in the country, with 900,000 pending cases reported in May—the combined result of unexpectedly high application numbers and bug-ridden computer systems.
In a letter to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on Monday, the California Department of Health Care Services said that it had reduced its application backlog to 600,000 by the start of this month. State officials also outlined a plan for technology fixes and administrative workarounds that they project will nearly halve that figure by the end of August—with most of those applications being processed within the allowed 45-day window. The letter was made public Tuesday.”
“The Affordable Care Act is the worst piece of legislation ever passed into law in the United States. It was poorly conceived, poorly written, poorly enacted, and is being poorly implemented. The thing is a mess. However, it does open up some doors that were firmly locked before—things that most free-market economists have been espousing for years without success. We should not run away from those things just because they have President Obama’s name on it.
I am not talking about the things the idiot media think are popular—the slacker mandate, open enrollment, equal premiums for men and women, and free “preventative” services. These are all terrible ideas for reasons I won’t go into here (unless you insist).
I’m talking specifically about several more important elements of the law that were not well crafted in this particular bill, but can now be used as precedents for major improvements in American health care.”
“Conservative criticism of the Affordable Care Act has created the impression that liberal, “big government” ideas are driving the health-care system. But plenty of ideas that conservatives like are taking hold in health care as well. To wit:
*The number of Medicare beneficiaries in private Medicare Advantage plans reached nearly 16 million this year, a record, and the Congressional Budget Office projects that it will hit 22 million by 2020. This partial privatization of Medicare is happening despite concerns that reductions in payments to private plans (what some call over-payments) would curtail enrollment.
*More than half of people on Medicaid are enrolled in managed-care plans, which are typically run by private insurers that contract with states on a capitated, or risk, basis. More than 30 million low-income Medicaid beneficiaries are in private plans. The number is growing as states move sicker and disabled populations covered by both Medicaid and Medicare to managed care and as many states expand their Medicaid programs under the ACA, putting newly covered beneficiaries into managed care.
About 50 million Americans covered by Medicare and Medicaid at some point in the year are in private insurance arrangements. Now, this is not the block grant of Medicaid or voucherization of Medicare that some conservatives ultimately seek–just as the ACA is not the single-payer system that some liberals want–but it’s a substantial privatization, and one that has occurred largely incrementally and under the radar.”
“While enrollment in private health insurance through online marketplaces may be closed until Nov. 15, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program added almost a million new patients in May, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Between April and May 928,628 people signed up for Medicaid or CHIP across the 48 states that reported data, up from 805,038 who joined in April but down from the 1.4 million who joined in March. The May figures, released Friday, bring total enrollment to nearly 66 million.
Medicaid is jointly funded by states and the federal government to serve low-income children, parents, the elderly and disabled people. The program was expanded through the Affordable Care Act to childless adults earning up to about $15,856 for a single household, though states can choose whether to expand. Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia have done so. CHIP, which is also jointly funded, serves children in families with incomes that are too high to qualify for Medicaid.”
“One of the oft-repeated arguments in favor of the Affordable Care Act is that it will reduce people’s need for more intensive care by increasing their access to preventive care. For example, people will use the emergency room less often because they will be able to see primary care physicians. Or, they will not develop as many chronic illnesses because they will be properly screened and treated early on. And they will not require significant and invasive care down the line because they will be better managed ahead of time.
Moreover, it is often asserted that these developments will lead to reductions in health care spending. Unfortunately, a growing body of evidence makes the case that this may not be true.
One of the most important facts about health care overhaul, and one that is often overlooked, is that all changes to the health care system involve trade-offs among access, quality and cost. You can improve one of these – maybe two – but it will almost always result in some other aspect getting worse.”